Two London hotspots for fine art and fine dining

The cuisine at these restaurants is as inspired as the masterpieces that accompany them – Hirsts on the walls at one, modern masters in the adjoining gallery at the other, says Bill Knott

Pharmacy 2
Pharmacy 2

Those of us who like our art on the plate, as well as on the wall, have never had it so good. Many London galleries now boast high-quality restaurants, and several – the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, to name but three – open late at weekends.

At Pharmacy 2, a collaboration between restaurateur Mark Hix and artist Damien Hirst in Hirst’s Stirling Prize-winning Newport Street Gallery, the link between art and restaurant is even closer. Like the Notting Hill original, closed in 2003, the dining room features many of Hirst’s works: several of his kaleidoscope butterfly paintings, a bar stuffed with surgical paraphernalia and shelves of neatly arranged medicine boxes. Strands of DNA are etched into the windows.

The menu is a steadying antidote to the psychedelic surroundings. It strays occasionally from the “local and seasonal” Hix mantra – crisp Tunisian brik pastry, for example, enclosing a soft-cooked duck egg and a blob of rose harissa, or a fragrant Vietnamese prawn salad, crunchy with cashews and shredded green mango – but there are also pink, richly flavoured lamb cutlets from Launceston with Jerusalem artichoke purée; trout from the Test in a Niçoise salad; and great hunks of lavishly marbled Glenarm Estate sirloin steak. And there is Hix’s signature “Heaven and Earth”: soft black pudding wrapped in caul fat, atop a potato and apple mash, guaranteed to satisfy even the most ravenous of culture vultures. The gallery opens until 10pm on Saturdays; the restaurant is open until midnight.

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The Whitechapel Gallery’s Refectory, meanwhile, opens “after hours” from 6pm to 11pm on Thursdays (when the gallery is open until 9pm), Fridays and Saturdays. It has a strong pedigree: the operators are Luke Wilson and Cameron Emirali, who opened 10 Greek Street and 8 Hoxton Square together; here, as at their other outlets, the emphasis is on top-notch ingredients simply prepared, bolstered by a stellar wine list.

During the day, the café offers superior salads, sandwiches and cakes; at night, the space becomes a wine bar and Spanish charcutería and cheeses take centre stage. You might find cabecera curada, a fatty, peppery hybrid of ham and sausage; salchichón, made from Ibérico pork; and cheeses from the splendid Las RRR dairy in Granada, made from mountain goats’ milk, or with milk from Granada cattle. English cheeses get a look in as well: Barkham Blue, for instance, made on the Hampshire/Berkshire border with milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows.

There are tastings too: on Friday November 3, for example, try the range of craft ales from the excellent Redchurch Brewery, then purchase a bottle of your favourite tipple to partner some fine fodder in the Refectory. “Art”, said Pablo Picasso, “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”: after a long working week, something delicious to eat and drink is equally welcome.

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